Iran nu­clear deal can in­form N. Korea talks

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Seoul’s De­fense Min­istry on Fri­day came out strongly against North Korea for its re­newed pledge to cling to its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. A min­istry spokesman said in a state­ment that Py­ongyang’s pos­ses­sion of any nu­clear arms can­not be ac­cepted and South Korea’s mil­i­tary will re­spond sternly if the North con­tin­ues to be provoca­tive.

This warn­ing came af­ter Hyon Yong Chol, the chief of North Korea’s Peo­ple’s Armed Forces, ar­gued a day ear­lier at an in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity con­fer­ence in Moscow that its pos­ses­sion of nu­clear bombs “is the di­rect re­sult of the hos­tile pol­icy by the United States and ... aimed at elim­i­nat­ing its nu­clear threat.”

On the same day, how­ever, South Korea’s point­man on Py­ongyang ex­pressed hope that the frozen in­terKorean re­la­tions would begin to thaw in the near fu­ture. At a press con­fer­ence held to mark the 30th day of his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hong Yong-pyo saw it as a pos­i­tive sign that the two Koreas have main­tained con­tact, though in a limited way. He said there could be more sub­stan­tive im­prove­ment in in­ter-Korean ties af­ter April.

Hong was re­fer­ring to the pos­si­bil­ity of Py­ongyang seek­ing to re­open talks with Seoul af­ter the on­go­ing joint mil­i­tary drill be­tween South Korea and the U.S. ends later this week. The North has re­jected the South’s ear­lier of­fer of high-level dia­logue in protest at the an­nual Seoul-Wash­ing­ton ex­er­cise, which it views as a re­hearsal for the al­lies’ in­va­sion of the com­mu­nist state.

In Fe­bru­ary, North Korea uni­lat­er­ally de­cided to raise wages for its work­ers hired by South Korean com­pa­nies at a joint industrial com­plex in the North’s bor­der city of Gae­seong. Py­ongyang, how­ever, has held con­sul­ta­tions on the wage is­sue with Seoul’s quasi-gov­ern­men­tal com­mit­tee set up to sup­port the op­er­a­tion of the fac­tory park with­out tak­ing any fur­ther ar­bi­trary steps. This at­ti­tude seems to be viewed by Seoul of­fi­cials as sig­nal­ing that the North will even­tu­ally ac­cept the dia­logue of­fer from the South.

Dur­ing last week’s news con­fer­ence, Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hong said Seoul was con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing South pri­vate Korean groups to ex­pand hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to the North. An­other min­istry of­fi­cial re­it­er­ated Seoul’s stance that it was ready to dis­cuss eas­ing blan­ket sanc­tions im­posed on Py­ongyang af­ter the North’s tor­pedo attack on a South Korean war­ship in 2010, if the two Koreas hold high-level talks.

But Seoul may find it dif­fi­cult to de­cide on whether and to what ex­tent to lift the puni­tive mea­sures when Py­ongyang is ac­tive on in­terKorean dia­logue but con­tin­ues to stick to its nu­clear weapons pro­gram and re­fuses to apol­o­gize for the naval attack.

Some ob­servers ex­pect Wash­ing­ton may seek to en­gage more ac­tively with Py­ongyang now that a frame­work agree­ment on rein­ing in Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram has been reached and the process of restor­ing U.S.-Cuba ties frozen for five decades has been put on track. Th­ese changes in global geopo­lit­i­cal con­di­tions may also serve to prompt the North to look for a way out of its in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion and eco­nomic predica­ment.

But it is likely that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will not be ready to cut a deal with Py­ongyang as it fo­cuses on gain­ing co­op­er­a­tion from the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress in seal­ing ac­cords with Iran and Cuba.

Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances, South Korean of­fi­cials need to be more adroit and proac­tive in in­duc­ing the North to take the course of se­cur­ing its sur­vival by bol­ster­ing its crum­bling econ­omy with sup­port from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in re­turn for dis­card­ing its nu­clear ar­se­nal — in a grad­ual man­ner if nec­es­sary. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Korea Her­ald on April 21.

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